One late October evening, Oscar is drawn towards the chapel of King’s College by the mesmerising sound of the organ playing within. There he meets the beautiful Iris Bellwether and the man responsible for the music, her brother Eden. They are from a different world, students at Cambridge whilst Oscar is a humble care assistant at a nursing home nearby. He soon falls in love with Iris, spending more time with her friends and family, learning that all might not be idyllic in the Bellwether household. Iris has soon embroiled Oscar in a plot to prove her brother isn’t quite sane…
Eden believes in the power of music. He is obsessed with Johann Mattheson and his theories that music can be used to manipulate people’s thoughts, hypnotise and even heal. Is he a harmless fantasist, dangerously insane or could he really have hidden talents beyond their understanding? I loved the way the music was described throughout, it really gave a sense of it without having to have prior knowledge.
The novel has been repeatedly compared to Brideshead Revisited and I can see the similarities. Certainly the style feels from a different age and the Bellwethers’ lifestyle doesn’t quite fit in the modern day. Iris may be more believable as a 1920s heroine but comes across as aloof, shallow and a bit too silly to be considered a medical student at Cambridge. The language of the Bellwethers felt a little old-fashioned, although their friends and those outside the circle are much more modern. Perhaps it highlights the differences in upbringing but I often had to remind myself it was set in the here and now. The dynamics between Oscar, the outsider, and the siblings is also reminiscent of Brideshead but that is where comparison ends.
Oscar is grounded in reality and his old world by a touching relationship with Dr Paulsen, an old, and often grumpy, man who he cares for at Cedarbrook. He is never ashamed of his job although he has distanced himself from his family. For all the wealth and intelligence the Bellwethers posess, Oscar comes out the end as the more worthwhile human being.
I also learned a new word, for something I really love which is always a perk of a good book (it also happens to be Iris’s favourite thing):
“Petrichor. It’s the word for how the earth smells after rainfall.”
I did find the relationship between Oscar and Iris a little flat. Fortunately, it’s more of a psychological tale revolving around Eden’s unravelling and the music that all three of the characters love.
The Bellwether Revivals is Benjamin Wood’s debut novel and is published by Simon and Schuster. It’s currently available in the UK in hardback and ebook editions and I believe it’s soon to be released in the US too. Thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.